There are few things quite as exhilarating as hitting the open road to explore new places, sharing an adventure with friends and family and creating memories to last a lifetime. But the fantasy of just jumping in your car and heading off into the wild blue yonder will, at best, yield hilarious stories you’ll be able to tell everyone. At worst, it could be a complete nightmare.
A little planning and thought will go a long way in ensuring your road trip is the holiday of a lifetime rather than a time you would rather forget.
Plot and plan:
Make an occasion of it and get together to plot your route and plan your trip. Let everyone contribute and decide on destinations and places of interest to visit.
Be careful not to over-schedule though – you never know when fun and interesting opportunities will arise or road construction or detours could slow you down. This is meant to be a relaxing holiday and you don’t need to create stress with a super tight schedule.
And be realistic about how far you want to travel in the time you have. No one is going have fun traveling for 12-hour days, only to get there and have to turn around and go back home.
Get an idea of how long your trip will be, and what types of places people may want to visit:
The only thing that you need to bear in mind as you amble along on the road trip is the return date. It’s not going to be very helpful to be in San Francisco when you need to be in New York City the next day or so. Some planning is essential to ensure that your road trip gets you back to where you came from on time! In addition, if there are particular must-do visits, find out times of opening, dates of special events, and the accommodation needs. If you’re heading to a festival or similar event, accommodation may be booked out if it’s popular, so you might need to be prepared to sleep in the car or rough it in bivouacs; at least know beforehand so that you can be prepared.
Consider which people you’d like to come with you on your journey.
These people should be in need of some fun, and willing to have it. They need to be prepared to rough it at times and to be stuck in the car for hours at a time when you just keep on driving. It also helps if each person coming along is able to and is willing to drive for some of the way, so that you can share the driving chore (with the obvious exception of children).
Get your car checked out:
The old cliché, prevention is better than cure, really does apply here. If your car is nearing its due date for a service, then get it done before your tip; if not have a trusted mechanic check it over thoroughly. And don’t forget to check that your spare tyre is pumped up and in working order.
Ensure peace of mind:
If you are not already a member of one, join a roadside rescue service. While there is nothing more exciting than taking the road less travelled, it’s not quite as appealing when you are stranded on that scenic road to nowhere with tired kids when not one car has passed you in an hour.
Having that number in your phone that immediately connects you to approved local tow services or mechanic is going to save you a lot of hassle, and also shield you from some of the dangers of the road that none of us wishes to encounter.
Take a real, actual map:
While gps is the best way to get to somewhere unfamiliar in a hurry and it’s a great back up when you can’t find a specific destination, it’s a lot more fun to track your progress together the old fashioned road-trip way. You can even frame it later as a souvenir.
Set a budget and stick with it:
Running out of money halfway through your trip is a sure way to ruin it, so allocate a daily amount and try to stick to your budget as far as possible. It’s also a good idea to have at least one credit card for emergencies, as well as small amounts of cash for entry to places and small necessities.
Take care driving:
A road trip is an awesome experience but don’t mar it by driving dangerously or thoughtlessly. Try to drive during the cooler parts of the day (less air-conditioning and not so hot for all of you), and use cruise control where possible to enable a steady speed. There are a number of things to be very conscious of when driving a road trip:
• Never pass or overtake on blind bends or hills, no matter how confident you start feeling as you keep on driving. Another car or truck coming the other way has nothing to do with your confidence!
• If you feel as if you’ve done enough driving for the day, heed that feeling. Pushing yourself beyond your limits puts you into the danger zone of drowsiness, poor reaction time, and bad decision-making. Any drowsiness should be heeded; find the nearest rest stop, pull over and take a good 20 minute break that includes stretching, walking, and perhaps eating and drinking.
• Heed the space needed for large vehicles such as trucks, RVs, buses, etc. when overtaking or passing them, as well as giving them wide berth when they’re turning. Remember that if you can’t see their mirrors, they cannot see you; pass by them quickly but safely, and don’t cut in too soon when pulling back in.
Avoid afternoon driving:
Tolerating the heat, especially in the South, can be a challenge. Avoid driving in the height of the afternoon if you have a chance. People siesta for a reason in warm places! You should take this tip via tradition to heart. Drive at night, dawn, or dusk for the most pleasant temperature and traffic-free experience. Not only will you be more comfortable, but you’ll probably save a little on gas money while you’re at it (it takes less gas to cool your car when the outside temperature drops).
It’s easy to become a stinky sweaty mess when traveling during the summer. Deodorant is important, but it won’t ward off all of the nasty scents of summer road tripping. I used to always have my shampoo, conditioner, and a jug of water around so I could quickly wash my hair in a parking lot if necessary. But public showers do exist.
Pack the essentials:
• Sunscreen, sunglasses and hats
• Lots of water and juice boxes
• Pillows for weary heads
• Jumper cables and a few basic tools
• A basic first aid kit
• Paper towels and garbage bags
• Snacks to stave off hunger and grumpiness on longer stretches
• Car phone charger
• A spare car key is never a bad idea either
Don’t take too much with you:
Long journeys fighting for space with the luggage are no fun at all. Try and stick to one bag each – and remember, you will be acquiring stuff along the way. “Less is more” is a good principle to follow.
Long stretches of driving can occasionally become a little tedious, especially for kids, so bring along a few things to liven things up and keep little ones entertained – and to avoid the dreaded question: “are we there yet?”
• Music – make a play list in advance, keeping in mind the fun of a good old sing-along
• Pack a few favourite activities/toys to keep little ones occupied
• Audio books
• Kids love to draw where they’re not supposed to, let the kids go to town on the back windows with non-permanent markers (Wipe off with a baby wipes)
• Wrap a couple of small toys and trinkets and let them choose a “gift” every couple of hours. It’s also a great incentive for good behaviour
And finally, don’t let the little things stress you out. Hit the road with an open mind and you may be very pleasantly surprised at where the road less travelled can take you.